A selection of photographs from the 'Handsworth Self Portrait' project.
Handsworth-based photographers Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon organised the self-portrait project in autumn 1979. They built a stall on Grove Lane with a simple studio set-up - a 35mm camera mounted on a tripod and a backdrop - and signs in English, Urdu and Punjabi, inviting passers-by to take their own portrait.
More than 500 people took part during the project's five sessions, all of them later receiving a copy of their own portrait to take away. People taking part in the Handsworth project pressed the shutter themselves using a long cable release, which allowed them to select the moment at which the photograph was taken and choose how they appeared in the shot. However, it was Bishton, Homer and Reardon who decided that all of the sitters should appear against the same neutral backdrop rather than being photographed in the urban environment. This was an attempt to overcome what they called 'some of the problems associated with documentary photography in an inner city area, which invariably presents people in a context of deprivation and inferiority'. Instead, the photographers wanted to confront popular stereotypes of life in Handsworth, conveying the 'unique richness' of the community living there. Direct and spontaneous, the resulting portrait series provides a vibrant record of a cross-section of Handsworth residents at that time.
The series presents an extraordinary variety of images within the deliberate limitations imposed by the standard format and neutral backdrop. There are single sitters, couples, and groups of family and friends; diverse races and ages; full-lengths, half-lengths and close-ups fo faces; and a range of ways of interacting with the camera. Some sitters pose with relative formality, presenting themselves a little self-conciously, as if on their best behaviour; others, like the boy in the parka, allow themselves playful stances and expressions. In this case particularly, the positioning of the subject within the frame adds to the portrait's effect, emphasising the boy's small stature and adding to the playful quirkiness of the image.
Extract from 'Making Connections - Birmingham Black International History' Edited by Ian Grosvenor, Rita McLean and Sian Roberts, 2002 (Black Pasts, Birmingham Futures Group)
Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon (Creator)
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